Industry Voice: Closing the skills gap for California’s manufacturing sector

By Jose Anaya / El Camino College | Mar 07, 2019

California manufacturing is faced with the growing challenge of finding skilled workers as baby boomers retire and the industry is growing. According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California, the state will face a middle-skilled worker shortfall of 1.1 million that will affect all of its industries by 2030. This shortage will reduce productivity and profit and hinder job creation.

As a result, in 2016, California state legislators approved the Strong Workforce Program to fill the shortage of middle-skilled workers. Through this legislation, the State of California will spend more than $200 million a year to create and improve career technical education programs that are more responsive to industry needs. One of the industry sectors that is benefiting from this investment is manufacturing.

With this new funding, community college manufacturing programs throughout California have been changing in an effort to help address the skills shortage that manufacturers are experiencing. The objective is for community colleges to work with local partners made up of education, government, and industry to identify the region's workforce demands and create relevant curricula to meet them. Other aims include establishing new certificates or associate degrees, recruiting experienced career technical education faculty, and creating career pathways that can lead to jobs or technical degree programs at four-year universities.

As a result of these changes, many manufacturing companies are now working closely with their local community colleges to develop programs to train a new generation of workers. Since each industry has specific needs, providing a "one size fits all" employee takes too long and reduces efficiency. By partnering with their local community college, manufacturing companies and organizations have developed relevant training programs that produce workers to meet their specific needs. When businesses work with education to provide training, it creates a pipeline of workers with skills matched to industry's needs in the shortest time possible.

In Los Angeles County, Northrop Grumman and Antelope Valley College partnered to help meet the workforce needs for trained employees. The partnership developed a 16-week intensive training program that ends with a guaranteed job interview at Northrop Grumman. Through this partnership, Northrop Grumman benefits by having the first pick of graduates who will fabricate and assemble their aircraft. Remaining students are fully trained and highly sought after by a number of other aerospace companies such as Lockheed Martin.

In Central California, the San Joaquin Valley Manufacturing Alliance developed a metal fabricator internship program for students at College of the Sequoias in Visalia with US Farm Systems, a Tulare-based wastewater equipment manufacturer. The partnership between US Farm Systems and College of the Sequoias has resulted in 22 internships and 10 full-time employment offers.

Through this partnership, incumbent workers were offered technical training in collaboration with the Training Resource Center and the Workforce Investment Board of Tulare County so they could attain higher, better-paying positions within the company. US Farm Systems reports an improved quality of work and lower scrap rate.

Internship and training programs like these lead by example. They show what can be achieved when businesses work with educators and workforce development organizations to fill the looming shortage of skilled workers in California.

Collaboration between business and the community college system is critical to the continued growth of manufacturing in California. Worker shortages in the manufacturing industry are mostly for machinists, welders, industrial maintenance mechanics, and other highly automated production jobs. Many manufacturing jobs now require postsecondary education and skills certification.

Businesses expect their employees to apply critical thinking and problem solving to manufacturing processes. Creating a strong workforce for California is a team effort. It is not something that community colleges, or workforce development agencies, or industry can do alone. Success requires full input of the unique assets and perspectives from all stakeholders: community colleges, education and workforce partners, business and industry, and state policymakers.

The Strong Workforce Program, through the California Community College system and its ecosystem of intrapreneurs, enables and nurtures effective collaboration, provides a structured support system and spurs workforce innovation to deliver the workforce needed over the next decade in California's fast evolving and globally connected economy. If you want to get involved, visit the California Community College system website and connect with your local community college.

Jose Anaya oversees the El Camino College's Community Advancement Division and Business Training Center. The Division is part of the College's efforts to advance local economic growth through quality educational programs and services.